I finally got myself over to Kochanski's Concertina Hall Friday night to catch a "dueling bands" kind of smackdown. The Lumberhorn had the stage on the west side of the floor, and on the east side there was Madison's Pupy Costello and his Big City Honky Tonk. Excellent pairing. In a way, this was comparing oranges to apples -- after all, while both could be considered Americana, the Lumberhorn are bluegrass, and Pupy Costello is genuine honky-tonk country. Setting the tone was a guy from a band called "God's Outlaw" who was pluggin his show for the following night at Puddler's Hall -- and the tagline on his flyer said it all: "Because today's country ain't country." That's been my complaint about "today's country" (I've been calling it nu-country for some time now.) I'm thoroughly convinced that people who claim they hate country music haven't listened to real country done by people who love it. Those people need to seek out a Pupy Costello show.
Pupy Costello and his Big City Honky Tonk is a band whose sound could be compared to Hank Williams, and if you need me to actually specify "Senior" then you've missed the point. Pupy Costello himself has that combination of humble country warmth and politeness with a swagger that brought to mind the Brad Pitt character in Thelma and Louise. If he stole 5K right out of your purse you'd shrug it off because he was so charming about it. He sings with a rich country tenor that every now and then breaks into a Mr. Haney-style yodel, and his band -- comprised of pedal steel guitar, fiddle, standup bass and trapset -- are equally authentic as they take on the Hank, the Johnny Paycheck, all the usual suspects.
And they're having a ball doing it, especially in this place that Kochanski has worked to turn into a celebratory hall, dedicated to the kind of music that makes people want to dance, to share some beers, to sing along. Kochanski understands that polka music -- the original mainstay of the bar -- has those same traits, but oldschool country (and the rockabilly, surf and other bands he's brought in there) has so much in common with the people's music of polka that it works. It fits, because it's still a oldcountry-style beer hall. By the end of the night, after they had pretty much exhauseted a set of convincing originals and spot-on honky tonk ocvers, nobody blinked an eye as Costello put on a spaceman mask and chugged out an AC/DC tune.
The format of two bands all set up and ready to go works, too. The Lumberhorn (again, whose wonderfulness and warmth I already take for granted) were just finishing their first set when I arrived, and Costello's band barely missed a beat to begin playing as soon as the Lumberhorn put down their instruments. No need to turn on the house music, here. The bands were the house music, and there was no clear winner to the smackdown.
Saturday night I called Marlavous for a girls' night out, and we began our odyssey with the Bucks, who brought the smackdown against the Sacramento Kings again. Pretty good crowd, and again, the rendering of the Anthem seemed to mirror what would happen in the evening. It was the Bristol Middle School choir. Here we have a lot of talent, but they didn't choose an arrangement that suited them. Yes, their sopranos hit the high notes perfectly, but they were drowned out by a lower voice section that, while OK, was arranged to have descending notes. A well-balanced high school choir could have pulled this off, but unfortunately, the descending notes on these kids made their sopranos sound pitchy, which they weren't.
And that's the way the Bucks played. Either they were hitting their shots and messing up on the defense, or, especially in the case of Luke Ridenour, they weren't hitting their normal shots -- but at least Ridenour made up for it with some crucial defensive moves. Unfortunately, one of those defensive moves included the smackdown on Michael Redd, and now Redd's out for the season. It didn't seem so bad at the Bradley Center: he was just limping off the court. Last time I witnessed a torn ACL up close (not to mention the wrecked MCL that Redd is also suffering though), it was my DH and he couldn't even stand up, and it was the most wretched look of pain I'd ever seen anybody have in my life. So it was a complete surprise to me that Redd is hurt as badly as he is. Bittersweet win here.
Marla and I still had a good time. We stayed politely in our seats at halftime (albeit gossiping) while watching the Bello Brothers: two men in suggestive outfits, a chair, and lots of amazing flipping and balancing. And we thrilled to the Force -- those standard break dancers who take that 80s art form to a whole new level. Good thing they didn't break out the big guns (in the form of the Rim Rockers), since the game was so tight all the way through. For once, we didn't need to be distracted.
guitar that seemed to match his style, a brass pickguard that while oxidized with use, produced a rich sound.
At Marla's insistence, we headed to another West Allis bar called Bunkers, and I have to tell you, it was a nice place with nice people, but this was 20 musical minutes I'll never get back. The draw? Two guys with what amounted to a karaoke machine singing for the crowd, in a smackdown of sorts. One of them was a terrific Neil Diamond impersonator, I'll give him that. He had that grindy low register, and managed to light up the crowd almost as well as the Jewish Elvis himself could have done. The other guy was just a dude with a fairly OK voice and stage presence, who invited Dave Alswager to join him on a version of Tommy Roe's "Dizzy." That was disastrous. Alswager's hysterical take on it was to sing it in the style of Jimi Hendrix -- and that was spot on -- but dude didn't get it, started apologizing to the audience, who subsequently didn't get it either, and all I could do was ask in horrified disbelief, "People can get paid for this?"
We made it to Club Lulu in Bayview in time to catch the last few songs of Brother Louie's set. I've written about BL before -- they're just a cool little cover band whose set list criteria seems to be only that it's a good song. This makes sense, what with Louie Lucheesi on vocals and Johnny Washday on bass -- Washday pretty much invented the idea of kitchen sink sets in this town. Too bad that aforementioned GI tract virus was starting to kick in, aggravated by watching the sports highlights of Michael Redd stumbling off the court in agonizing pain. As such, we didn't make it to Points East for a set from the wonderful Crumpler.
The sports pundits are decrying the end of the Bucks now, but I'm not giving up faith. After all, Redd was out for a good part of the beginning of the season, and they still won games. Brian just left with Stella for tonight's bout against Minnesota, and I still think that it's Bogut's absence that's going to hurt them tonight, not Redd's.
Up on the docket for this coming week:
- The Bra Project from Danceworks, which is getting good reviews from both the MSM and the underground press. As it's going to be February before I get another peek at the Milwaukee ballet, this should satisfy my jones for some good dance.
- The Paul Collins Beat this Thursday at Club Garibaldi! I remember when they were just "The Beat" but then the English Beat came out and they renamed themselves so people woudln't get confused. (My college buddy, Pansy Division's Jon Ginoli, asked at the time, "Why does the Beat have to change their name? Why can't The English Beat rename themselves to The English Paul Collins?") Anyway, remember "I Wanna Be With a Rock and Roll Girl"? That's them! Perfect early 80s power pop at its underground best.
- Saturday night I'm hitting the road with Marlavous -- it's "Winter Dance Party" season and this time I'm not going to see it in another hotel banquet center in Milwaukee. No, I can't wait to shoot this nostalgic extravaganza at the Weill center in Sheboygan. I'm told it's a magnificent theatre, and besides the usual suspects (Shurilla doing his Buddy Holly thang, Marlavous doing her girl group schtick) the Liam Ford band will be there, and they're a rockabilly treat. All they need is an Elvis impersonator and they're golden.
Also, a save the date notice -- February 14 at Miramar is sort of a Valentine sendoff for Atomic Records. Lots of great local bands reuniting to pay tribute to one of the few institutions in town that provided unwavering support for the local music scene. Already on the bill is Liquid Pink, Sometime Sweet Susan, the Lovelies, the Deek Lick, Boy Dirt Car, heck, even Liquid Pink is reuniting for this show. It's going to be a terrific show, I just wish the reason it's happening wasn't happening.